My aunt Carolyn is near death.
Her body is riddled with cancer and it came upon her quickly. Her children and grandchildren are gathering as are siblings and other beloveds.
This hurts. She is my mom’s older sister. Tall and strong and talented and gracious and fierce and like no other, she is. Private, oh so private about her thoughts and being. And within that being, the glimpses I got of the woman are part of the who I am.
We would spend weeks with her and her tribe of five children. I almost wondered if she and my mom conspired around childbirthing, because with the exception of one child in the middle not represented in my family, the two sisters had four other children born in pairs. It made for raucous gatherings. A cousin our own age for each of us. There were summers at the cabin and weeks in Duluth spent at Carolyn’s and Thanksgiving feasts and loud poker games and not a one of my mom’s sibling laughs delicately. Most of their kids share the same propensity for full-bodied laughter. So the air when the family gathered was laced with conversation and laughter choruses and intrigue and warm.
We’ll gather soon to thank God for Carolyn’s life. I don’t much know how to say thank you. What I am thinking these days is what a powerful blessing family is: Memories and traditions and relationships and bumps and the ongoing threading together that is sacred learning ground. We learn from each other lessons that we can’t even speak.
The lesson I can speak has to do with french toast. Aunt Carolyn taught me that french toast is a great way to use stale bread and it goes a long way for small cost. That teaching I can speak. But the other things she has deposited in my heart? I can’t speak them. But I know them to be grace.
So I pray on this night: God’s blessings, travelling mercies, thank you, thank you, thank you.
For forty some years now a part of my heart has been lodged in the log embrace of my cabin. My parents bought it when I was in second grade. The day after school let out, my mother and my sibs were in the car and on our way to the cabin, where we would spend days barefooted and swim suited and blissfully at one with water and space. My father would pay his visits weekly after he had finished worship on Sunday. The same was true for the other men who owned cabins up and down our beach. They would come, the men, and they would leave. And the beach? It was a community of women and children with an occasional and welcome male splash.
After a time, my father moved there and made home full time. The power of his spirit was taken into the pores of the place. When he died all too suddenly in its shelter, his wife muddled on for a time in the solitude and the stress of winter in isolated places. She came to know the need to bail.
So I bought it. I could not imagine it leaving the family. I could not imagine my life without the sanctuary of its presence. I could not bear the thought of leaving the community of women and children now grown and the generations beginning to find roots there. I bought it and in doing so I am keeper of the light of hearth for me and for my kin who know it as heart home.
This summer it is not available to me. For a time, it is being rented to another. And oh, the ache for the smell and the feel and the hold and the song of it is visceral. The rhythms of my life are jarred. The crawling in that has long been is no more for a time.
I am learning things. I am learning that I am a creature who must spend time by water, in wind, and under trees. I am paying attention to the ache and seeking ways for my rhythm to be restored in other venues. I am digging more in the ground of my city yard. I am seeking re-creation through lakes and grass and water never far from the armor of concrete. I am learning gratitude for God’s creative glory in the birds that feed on the newly hung bird feeder in my yard. I am learning.
And I know that after a time, the cabin that is the nest of my heart will once again take me in. So this ode to ache is also song of gratitude. She is, that log hug. She is, and she waits for me and mine. That is blessing, it is blessing indeed.
I was handed a gift yesterday at church. The woman who handed it to me shares my love of words and seems to have an uncanny sense of what will resonate with me.
The book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I had heard someone else mention how good it was, but the title seemed too cute to make for an interesting read. Plus, it was hardcover and I have pledged myself to only buying paperbacks if the wait at the library is too long. Most times I stick to that pledge….
I read the book in one day. It has a power hard to describe. And for me on this day, it was just the sort of soul food I was hungry for.
The gift was given on Mother’s Day. I received it after having led worship at two services where moms and children were sitting side by side on a Sunday morning worshipping God and giving thanks for the life of the other. My mother on Mother’s Day was three hours north in Duluth. My three children were off doing what they need to do on such a day: studying for finals and working miles from their mother’s side. I will admit to a bit of wistful loneliness. I was missing my mom and I was missing being the mom of kids I could sit in a pew with.
And then I got a gift. With an amazing card with a message I was graced to hear. And suddenly, Mother’s Day became a celebration of the power of connection shared through the cords of love we weave in our lives.
The gift of life comes in ways sometimes visceral and sometimes ethereal and we who are reborn through the gifting are meant to give thanks. And so I do.
Somehow we don’t hear much about how grief is a total body experience.
When we lose things: dreams, beloveds, a sense of solid, the wham of grief is sudden guest in our life. Uninvited, to be sure, but guest none the less.
In the rounds of pastoring, grief is a language that is spoken often. Those of us who are able to be present at such times feel the honor of such sharing. To be witness to tears and thrashings and wonderings about how such weight is to be borne is holy work.
And it is work powerfully shared. Sometimes people come out of worship flowing with tears. They are apologetic and embarrassed. Sometimes they aren’t sure what triggered the deluge. Sometimes they know well the source: a parent’s favorite hymn, the dangerous power of stillness and its ability to surface pain, the challenges and wrangles of life that just seem overwhelming and too much to bear.
When such tears are shed in the company of others, they are gift. They bear witness to the power and safe of community. They are proclaimers of mystery and sign of soul work. They are language deeper than words.
My prayer is that for each of us, there is a pair of eyes, a presence, a place where tears and grief and confusion are safe to share. Companions on our spirit journey are there for us, even when we feel less than lovely. Even when we are so confused we cannot speak coherence. Even then, especially then.
And my prayer is that the awareness grows in us each that in all of our griefs, we are companioned by the Holy: Breathing, pulsing, and loving in all of the wet.
It was as if all the flavors of the earth were out to play in the May sunlight.
I’ve lived in Minneapolis for over five years now, but somehow didn’t get over to experience the May Day parade and revelries near Powderhorn Park. This year my daughter Leah was pretty insistent. I HAD to be a part of this. She was right.
The parade begins before the parade begins. Rounding the corner onto the street where the parade was going to pass, I was treated to the sight of blocks of people on their hands and knees drawing on the street with chalk. The barricades were up, the cars were gone, and the play began. Every manner of bike tooled past. Costumes meant to celebrate spring were worn. There were ribbons dancing and bodies freed from months of hiding from the cold.
The parade itself, when it passed us, was a story wrought by Heart of the Beast creativity. Every year there is a theme. This year it was how it is we are called to build a better world through a compassionate global economy (at least that’s what I got from it). The story was told by an array of enthusiastic folk willing to give time and talent and energy to tell a story that needs telling.
I sat in the sun. Leaning up against my guy, nestled next to my eldest, immersed in the celebration that is life, glad to be alive and embodied and ready to play.